All 3 Lord Griffiths of Burry Port contributions to the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020

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Wed 15th Jan 2020
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Tue 21st Jan 2020
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Tue 21st Jan 2020
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European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill Debate

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European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill

Lord Griffiths of Burry Port Excerpts
Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard) & Committee stage & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Wednesday 15th January 2020

(4 years, 6 months ago)

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I urge the Minister to accept these amendments. If that is not possible at the moment, I would urge him to bring back something that will reassure the devolved Administrations in these respects.
Lord Griffiths of Burry Port Portrait Lord Griffiths of Burry Port (Lab)
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My Lords, your Lordships are being spared a long speech from me simply because the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, has made it for me.

I want to focus on Amendment 29. When we were debating the first European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill, the irregularity and lack of efficiency of the JMC was referred to again and again. We identified exempted items from the provisions that would need to be set within a framework in order to try to establish an internal market for our country. We identified that, subsequent to the passing of that piece of legislation, the JMC would need to perform better to guarantee that what we were asking for would come to pass. That has not happened.

Amendment 29 seeks to tighten up on a resolution we made then and which we have had the chance to monitor since. If the proposals before us go through, a statutory basis, a serious performance and an impact assessement will be needed if we are to have the trusting relationship between the Administrations in these islands which will guarantee that the desires of the Government are implemented in an appropriate way. This is the shortened version of my speech. I know that your Lordships are rather sad at not getting it in full.

Lord Murphy of Torfaen Portrait Lord Murphy of Torfaen (Lab)
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My Lords, I endorse the remarks of my noble friend Lord Griffiths and the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, on Amendment 29. Your Lordships will recall that it is nearly 23 years since the people of Wales and Scotland voted for devolution. It is almost 22 years since the people of Northern Ireland voted for the Good Friday agreement and the establishment of devolution there. Happily, last week we saw the restoration of the institutions of government and democracy in Northern Ireland.

The political landscape of our country has changed tremendously during the past two decades. Having been the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and for Wales, I am not convinced that Governments of either persuasion—nor the coalition— understood, in the course of those 20 years, what devolution was all about. Certainly, the relationships between the United Kingdom Government and those in Belfast, Cardiff and Edinburgh could have been better. I am one of those old boys to whom the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, referred. Back in 2003, we had Labour Governments in Scotland, Wales and England. It was a bit cosy, inevitably. Things changed after that. We never had a Labour Government, of course, in Northern Ireland.

The Joint Ministerial Committee, for which I held Cabinet responsibility from 2007 onwards, never really worked. It was a great idea, bringing together Ministers from all the different Administrations but it did not work as it should have done. It did not meet as frequently as it should have done. I am not convinced that even under the new designation of Joint Ministerial Committee on EU Negotiations it has been all that successful, but it has been a bit better than previous incarnations. Now is the chance because our constitution has changed dramatically, not just because of devolution but because of what we are debating today.

Our departure from the European Union and all that involves in constitutional matters has to be looked at in the context of devolution as well. I hope that the Minister will look very carefully at Clause 29 in particular and put when and how JMCs meet on a proper statutory footing. If JMCs do not work then the trust and the confidence between the three devolved Administrations—one now very new—and the United Kingdom Government will evaporate. A number of noble Lords, including the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, have made the point that unless we get the devolution settlement post Brexit right, it will threaten the union. The Government talk about the precious union all the time but it can be threatened if we do not take the devolved Administrations seriously in their role within the United Kingdom. If this does not work then the movement for independence in Scotland will get even stronger and movement towards a united Ireland might actually happen in Northern Ireland. I do not want any of those things to happen. I am a unionist with a small “u”. The best way to prevent that and to restore strength in the union is to ensure that we respect the devolution settlement, and these amendments do precisely that.

European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill Debate

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European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill

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Report: 2nd sitting (Hansard) & Report stage & Report: 2nd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Tuesday 21st January 2020

(4 years, 5 months ago)

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Lord Wallace of Saltaire Portrait Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD)
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My Lords, may I raise a short constitutional question that came up last week and which relates to this? In our debate on Clause 38 last Thursday, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen, from the Government Front Bench said that Dicey is the absolute authority on parliamentary sovereignty. Dicey’s view on parliamentary sovereignty was that it was indivisible, that it cannot be shared upwards or downwards. His views were strengthened by his bitter opposition to the whole idea of home rule either for Ireland or for Scotland. He believed strongly that the imperial Parliament was therefore the only authority of British imperial law.

That doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty, strongly held, is of course one reason why those who wish us to leave the European Union have objected to the whole principle of European law interfering with the sovereignty of British law as defined by Parliament. It seems to me, therefore, that as part of the process we go through as we leave the European Union, and as we proceed towards some sort of constitutional convention, we will have to redefine the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty so as to accept that these devolved Assemblies —these devolved nations—have more than the occasional permission of the Westminster Parliament to do as they wish, and that they have certain entrenched rights that are not compatible with the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty as defined by this rather prejudiced, late-Victorian lawyer.

Lord Griffiths of Burry Port Portrait Lord Griffiths of Burry Port (Lab)
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My Lords, some of the speeches have painted on a large canvas. I would like to focus on the amendment itself. I am reminded of a discussion here yesterday about the possibility—perhaps fatuous—of moving this Chamber to York in the name of reaching out to the population of this country. I mention that because, 20 years ago, in the name of reaching out to the country at large, the devolved Administrations came into being. The 20 years in between have offered enough evidence of the fact that you do not just bring things into being; you support and sustain them by developing a relationship that enhances partnership between the devolved bodies and the United Kingdom Parliament. I wish that people on other Benches would realise just how disappointed people in the devolved areas are about what has happened over the last 20 years and the way in which—begrudgingly, as it seems to them—some concessions and developments have come into being. I just wish people could feel that.

I have three children. When they were growing up, as teenagers, the most important aspect of parenthood that we had to learn was the moment when you establish trust. You move away from authoritarian modes of existence with your own children, and you trust them, even when sometimes they make mistakes. It seems to me that, in this amendment, we are asking simply to give visibility to a stance that we could describe as trust; that is the heart of it. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, said, it does not seek to change the provisions of the Bill; it just says that we should trust each other as we go along.

I would be surprised if I am the only one who has had to educate myself, because the new clause proposed by the amendment would, if accepted, go in after clauses that describe the UK-EU joint committee, and it is terribly confusing to talk about the Joint Ministerial Committee in the context of movements that bring that joint UK-EU committee into being. It does not end there, because we are talking about the Joint Ministerial Committee European Union sub-committee. The action we are trying to establish good relations for is what will happen in the discussions with Europe to bring about our ongoing relationship, in the period following the enactment of the Bill. We should therefore remember that we are looking to have these things written into the Bill to apply for a limited period.

My noble friend Lord Howarth is quite right: of course you cannot legislate for the processes of consultation. He went on to say that willingness cannot be legislated for, but unwillingness might necessitate legislation—and there has been unwillingness. There is a lack of empathy. Even the noble Lord opposite spoke about hardness and refusing to accept a position that will create difficulties. That is never in anyone’s mind at all.

I go back to discussions in Committee and the intervention made by the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, who said:

“The best option would be to include representatives of the devolved Administrations in the negotiating teams that go to Brussels when the subject for discussion is going to touch on the competence of the devolved Administrations.”—[Official Report, 15/1/20; col. 672.]


If they are going to discuss the competence of the devolved Administrations, is it not fair and proper that those from the devolved Administrations most affected might be there to add their voice to the discussions? Is that not reasonable? Are we not talking about common sense?

We are looking at this in a binary way, thinking that everybody who has a different view is somehow invested with animosity towards the Government. We are talking about bringing out of all this something that stands up and appeals to people on the basis of common decency and fair play. I am happy to rest my case there.

Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town Portrait Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town (Lab)
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My Lords, we strongly support Amendment 17, without which the whole nation of Wales could be excluded from preparing for input into the UK-EU negotiations. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, said, and as the letter of 16 January from the noble Lord, Lord Duncan, to your Lordships sets out—I hope people have now got it—the Government have promised that representatives of the Northern Ireland Executive will be invited to be part of the UK delegation and to take part in any meetings of the joint committee discussing Northern Ireland where the Irish Government are involved.

That guarantee is welcome; I do not undermine that at all. But where is the equivalent recognition that, where the specific issues of other constituent parts of the UK are discussed, they too can be at the table, or at the very least be assured that the JMC on EU Negotiations has been briefed and will feed into Her Majesty’s Government’s negotiating position with the EU? The Government are seen as giving scant regard to the devolved authorities’ interests and legitimate role in the negotiation, which is why a statutory role is needed. As my noble and learned friend Lord Morris of Aberavon said, the voluntary way has not worked sufficiently well.

--- Later in debate ---
Baroness Ludford Portrait Baroness Ludford (LD)
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My Lords, to sum up briefly, the Minister will have heard the strength of feeling in this House and the state of perplexity and bewilderment at the legislative record on this: the section is in the 2018 Act and there was no provision in the first version of this Bill to delete it. Therefore, in terms of continuity, the position would point to the Government accepting the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, which would surely be the graceful and gracious thing for the Government to do. The strength of feeling no doubt indicates to the Government that they might otherwise have to deal with a vote in this House. There is a way out for them, and I very much hope that the Minister will be able to take it.

Lord Griffiths of Burry Port Portrait Lord Griffiths of Burry Port
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My Lords, the debate has been eloquent and emotion has played its part. I must begin by paying yet another tribute, for the second time today, to the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, who has proved to have an expertise in the area of bafflement as much as anything else. The clever way in which he unpicked the strands from the balls of wool that had got tangled up and pulled them out for us to look at just left us totally bewildered, so that when it all settled back again we understood as little as we did before he began.

I have listened to the arguments, and the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, for whom I have nothing but respect, will need to listen a little harder on the nature of the lack of trust, which is dependent not on political, adverserial positions but on a genuine feeling that we are at a moment in our parliamentary history where we have lost the art of building consensus and taking an argument forward with the respect and even affection we have for each other when we are outside the debating Chamber. It seems to me that in this debate we have reached that sort of point.

It is a source of great wonderment to me that something put in an Act just 18 months ago is now not in it and that arguments are being put forward to justify taking it out. I certainly do not understand it, but it is a long time since I took my bachelor of arts degree and perhaps I am getting addled in my old age. But it is for a small group of children—children with relatives, which limits the number even further—on the part of a Government who have already done so well in the area looking after the interests of children. It is not an instruction to the Government to do this or that which we are seeking to put into this amendment. It is not about outcomes. It is to start or keep alive a process of negotiation on this issue.

The right reverend Prelate is quite right that this has a moral dimension. We must never forget that. The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, mentioning “urgency”, “two months” and all the rest of it reminds us that we have a chance here to put this into the Bill in a way that gets things started at once, for an objective which I cannot believe a single person in this House would refuse to want and desire. I do not know. I am new to this game of politics. I try my best, I really do.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, quoting the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, emphasised that point; nobody is seeking to tell the Government what to do or what point to reach in what they do. There is a difference between outcomes and process. All we want in the Bill is that a process be entered into. Outcomes will depend on the negotiations. That is the desire here. Other people have spoken eloquently. I hope that, in a spirit of generosity, there will be no riding of high horses because “We’ve won an election”. As the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, said, it is in the school of humanity that we will be judged, not on our party, partisan positions.

The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, is another person to whom I have listened with enormous respect in the short time that I have been doing this work, and I hold her in that respect now. Yesterday, an agreement was forged via the usual channels on a stance on an issue that would arise later in the evening. During the afternoon, that stance was totally modified, and we had to take our people through the Lobbies in an entirely different way. If that can happen in an afternoon, perhaps there is some justification for trust needing to be earned.

So, the matter is before us. I am quite sure that we will be asked to vote on it, but it is a terribly serious issue about the body politic in this country. This is an admirable debate where we can learn the art of constructive engagement and putting together a better tomorrow.

Lord Ashton of Hyde Portrait Lord Ashton of Hyde (Con)
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My Lords, this is an important stage in the debate. With the agreement of the usual channels, we are going to put off the rest of the debate until after lunch to allow noble Lords to think about this. The Minister will wind up after lunch.

European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill

Lord Griffiths of Burry Port Excerpts
Report: 2nd sitting (Hansard - continued) & Report stage & Report: 2nd sitting (Hansard - continued): House of Lords
Tuesday 21st January 2020

(4 years, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Griffiths of Burry Port Portrait Lord Griffiths of Burry Port (Lab)
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My Lords, I cannot really think that that is how things will play out. Yesterday I heard that an agreement had been made, meaning that there would be no vote that evening. On the strength of that, I arranged to take my wife out for dinner at last. Then everything changed, and there was to be a vote— indeed, there were to be two votes. I slipped out before any of that happened to phone my wife and say, “Dinner’s off.” I simply make the plea that we distinguish between what is in the marriage contract and the conventions that we create for ourselves that help marriages, and other relationships, to flourish.

This is a convention; it is not a law. But in granting this convention and incorporating it in the Bill, we will improve the relationship between us and the people in the devolved Administrations. It is so simple. We have heard arguments about things being set in stone, and about the thin end of the wedge. Who remembers reading FM Cornford’s Microcosmographia Academica? One or two—these are the educated people. It was an argument about what happens in academic circles, where there is always a body of people who are resistant to change. They resist change on the grounds that it may be the thin end of the wedge, or set things in concrete, and all the other things I have been hearing in these wretched debates. Please let us realise that the softer acknowledgements of relationships, as well as the hard ones, help the debate, and the relationships, forward.

Baroness Butler-Sloss Portrait Baroness Butler-Sloss (CB)
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My Lords, I had not intended to speak, but over the last week I have listened to the various representatives of the devolved Administrations in this union of ours. Speaking as a totally English person, without any relationships in any of the three devolved areas—other than being married to an Ulsterman—I think that we English ought to be very careful and listen to what the devolved areas are saying to us. It was said earlier that the Government, and indeed many English people, might not really appreciate what devolution has meant. Perhaps it is time we did.